Coming Into the Light
Monday of the Second Week of Easter
There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” John 3:1–2
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, is mentioned three times in the Gospel of John. The passage above comes from the first time he’s mentioned. The second time is when he reminds the Sanhedrin that Jesus should be heard by them before they condemn Him, and the third time is when Nicodemus assists with Jesus’ burial after His death. John’s Gospel is very symbolic. He especially uses the images of light and dark. For example, when Judas went out to betray Jesus, John’s Gospel notes that “it was night.” In the passage above, John’s Gospel notes that Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night.”
Saint Augustine, in commenting upon this passage, says that Nicodemus came to Jesus “at night” because Nicodemus was not yet fully born again and, therefore, was not yet living fully in the light of faith. But the fact that Nicodemus does come to Jesus and questions Him at length shows that he had a spark of faith and that he wanted to deepen that faith. He clearly hoped that Jesus was the Messiah and professed that Jesus was “a teacher who has come from God.”
From early times, prior to the formalization of canonization practices, Nicodemus has been given the title of “saint” within the Catholic Church as well as in the Orthodox Church. He is especially venerated because he stood up against the other religious leaders at the time to defend Jesus and show support for Him. This took courage. He was ridiculed and risked being shunned by the others. But Nicodemus knew there was something special about Jesus, and he persevered in following that inspiration.
In many ways, Nicodemus is a great example for us today in our modern world. More and more, in most secular world cultures, being a follower of Jesus is looked down upon. This is especially true if you choose to live your faith openly and believe all that the Gospels teach. Many Christians find that living their faith openly, especially within the workplace, school environments, and other civic circles, is challenging. And like Nicodemus, many find it easier to come to Jesus “at night,” meaning, in a hidden way. And though Nicodemus started this way, he eventually spoke openly in defense of Jesus in the presence of his fellow Pharisees who, according to some traditions, persecuted him and drove him into exile.
Reflect, today, upon Saint Nicodemus. He allowed the spark of faith within him to grow as He listened to Jesus, struggled with the pressure from his peers, but ultimately openly professed his faith in Christ. And though this hurt his worldly position of honor within the Sanhedrin and among the earthly rulers, it earned Nicodemus an eternal honor in Heaven. Reflect upon the courage he must have had to go against the pressure of his peers by allowing the faith he found in Christ to grow and fill his life with the light of Truth. Seek to imitate this good man and allow yourself to be inspired by his courage so that you, too, will receive the same eternal glory he now enjoys in Heaven.
Lord of light and truth, You reveal Yourself to those who come to You with faith. Help me to follow the example of Nicodemus so that all confusion and darkness will be dispelled by the light of Your truth. Give me courage, dear Lord, to follow You and to set my heart on all that You reveal. Jesus, I trust in You.
A “Holy Push”
Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter
Nicodemus answered and said to him, ‘How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.” John 3:9–11
As we reflected upon yesterday, Nicodemus is one of the only Pharisees who ultimately converted, became a follower of Jesus, and is today considered a saint. The only other Pharisees who were recorded by name as converts to Christianity were Saint Paul and Gamaliel. Acts 15:5 also indicates that some other Pharisees ultimately converted.
When the many encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees are considered as a whole, it’s clear that there was great resistance among them toward Jesus and His teaching. They were constantly seeking to trap Him and, of course, ultimately were responsible for His death, along with other leading religious leaders from the Sanhedrin. For that reason, it’s easy to understand that there must have been great pressure upon all the Pharisees to reject Jesus. Each one of them would have felt the power of peer pressure to act in accord with the general view of Jesus’ condemnation. This is the context of this passage above in which Nicodemus questions Jesus. This passage continues yesterday’s Gospel conversation in which Jesus says clearly to Nicodemus that the way to Heaven is to be “born from above.” Nicodemus questions how one can “be born again,” and then Jesus issues this apparent criticism of Him quoted above.
It’s helpful to understand that Jesus’ criticism was not a condemnation of Nicodemus. It was not in the tone of His normal “Woe to you…” statements; rather, it was a gentle but very direct challenge to Nicodemus so as to move him from his questions to faith. And that’s the key. Nicodemus did not come to Jesus to trap and condemn Him like the other Pharisees did. Nicodemus came because he was confused. And most likely, he was confused because he felt great peer pressure from his fellow Pharisees to condemn Jesus.
Understanding this context should help us understand not only the goodness and courage of Nicodemus but also the loving boldness of Jesus. Jesus knew that Nicodemus was open. He knew that Nicodemus could be won over. But Jesus also knew that Nicodemus needed to be challenged in a direct and firm way. He needed a bit of a “holy push” so as to enter into the gift of faith. Of course, Jesus’ challenge ultimately won Nicodemus over.
Reflect, today, upon any way in which you, too, need a “holy push” from our Lord. What form of worldly pressure do you experience in life? Do friends, neighbors, family members or co-workers impose upon you in some way a peer pressure that is contrary to the life of true holiness? If so, ponder the ultimate courage of Nicodemus, Saint Paul and Gamaliel. Let their witness inspire you and allow our Lord to challenge you where you need it the most so that you, too, will receive the “holy push” that you need to be a more faithful follower of Jesus.
My Lord of all strength, You are unwavering in Your determination to challenge me in the area that I need it the most. Help me to receive your gentle rebukes of love when I am weak so that I will have the courage and strength I need to be a faithful follower of You. Give me clarity and understanding, dear Lord, and help me to overcome the misleading pressures of the world. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Summary of Clarity
Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter
“God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16
We continue, today, to read from the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who ultimately converted and is venerated as one of the early saints of the Church. Recall that Jesus challenged Nicodemus as a way of helping him to make the difficult decision to reject the malice of the other Pharisees and to become His follower. This passage quoted above comes from Nicodemus’ first conversation with Jesus and is often quoted by our evangelical brothers and sisters as a summary of the whole Gospel. And indeed it is.
Throughout Chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches about light and darkness, being born from above, wickedness, sin, condemnation, the Spirit and much more. But in many ways, all that Jesus taught in this chapter and throughout His public ministry can be summed up in this short and to-the-point statement: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This short teaching could be broken down into five essential truths.
First, the Father’s love for humanity, and specifically, for you, is a love so deep that there is no way we will ever fully understand the depths of His love.
Second, the love the Father has for us compelled Him to give us the greatest gift we could ever receive and the greatest gift the Father could give: His own divine Son. This gift must be prayerfully pondered if we are to come to a deepening understanding of the infinite generosity of the Father.
Third, as we prayerfully enter deeper and deeper into our understanding of this incredible gift of the Son, our only appropriate response is faith. We must “believe in Him.” And our belief must deepen just as our understanding deepens.
Fourth, we must realize that eternal death is always possible. It is possible that we eternally “perish.” That realization will give even greater insight into the gift of the Son in that we will realize that the first duty of the Son is to save us from eternal separation from the Father.
Lastly, the gift of the Son from the Father is not only to save us but also to draw us to the heights of Heaven. That is, we are given “eternal life.” This gift of eternity is of infinite capacity, value, glory and fulfillment.
Reflect, today, upon this summary of the whole Gospel: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Take it line by line, prayerfully seeking to understand the beautiful and transforming truths revealed to us by our Lord in this holy conversation with Nicodemus. Try to see yourself as Nicodemus, a good person who is trying to understand Jesus and His teachings more clearly. If you can listen to these words with Nicodemus and accept them deeply in faith, then you, too, will share in the eternal glory these words promise.
My glorious Lord, You came to us as the greatest Gift ever imagined. You are the gift of the Father in Heaven. You were sent out of love for the purpose of saving us and drawing us into the glory of eternity. Help me to understand and believe all that You are and to receive You as the saving Gift for Eternity. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Meaning of Love
Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him. John 3:35
It’s interesting to note that the words of today’s Gospel appear to be from Saint John the Baptist, since they come within the context of his testimony to Jesus. Some commentators, however, suggest that they are words that were actually spoken by Jesus and that the Evangelist inserts them here as a continuation of the testimony of the Baptist, attributing them to Saint John. Regardless of who actually spoke these words, the line quoted above gives us much to reflect upon in that it gives us insight into the very meaning and practice of true love.
What is love? Is it a feeling? An emotion? A drive or a desire for something or someone? Of course, the secular understanding of love is much different than a divine understanding of love. Oftentimes the secular view of love is more self-centered. To “love” someone or something is to want to possess that person or object. “Love” from a secular view focuses upon the attraction and desire. But true love, from a divine perspective, is very different.
The line quoted above tells us two things: First, we are told that “The Father loves the Son…” But then we are given a definition of that love. We are told that love in this case results in the Father giving “everything over” to the Son. When we consider the word “everything” in this passage, it is clear that this can only refer to the Father giving Himself to the Son in totality. Within the life of the Father, everything means His very essence, His being, His personhood, His whole divine self. The Father does not say, “I want;” rather, the Father says, “I give.” And the Son receives all that the Father is.
Though this is deep and mystical language, it becomes very practical for our lives when we understand that divine love is not about wanting, taking, desiring, feeling, etc. Divine love is about giving. It’s about the giving of oneself to another. And it’s not just about giving some of yourself away, it’s about giving “everything” away.
If the Father gave everything to the Son, does that mean that the Father has nothing left? Certainly not. The beautiful nature of divine love is that it is never ending. The more one gives themself away, the more they have. Thus, the gift of the life of the Father to the Son is infinite and eternal. The Father never ceases to give, and the Son never ceases to receive. And the more the Father gives Himself to the Son, the more the Father becomes the essence of love itself.
The same is true in our lives. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that love should only go so far. But if we are to strive to imitate and participate in the love the Father has for the Son, then we must also understand that love is about giving, not receiving, and that the giving must be a gift of everything, holding nothing back. We must give ourselves away to others without counting the cost and without exception.
Reflect, today, upon your view of love. Look at it from a practical perspective as you think about the people whom you are especially called to love with a divine love. Do you understand your duty to give yourself to them completely? Do you realize that giving yourself away will not result in the loss of your life but in the fulfillment of it? Ponder the divine love that the Father has for the Son and make the radical and holy choice today to strive to imitate and participate in that same love.
My loving Lord, the Father has given all to You, and You, in turn, have given all to the Father. The love You share is infinite and eternal, overflowing into the lives of all Your creatures. Draw me into that divine love, dear Lord, and help me to imitate and share in Your love by fully giving my life to others. Jesus, I trust in You.
Friday of the Second Week of Easter
“Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” John 6:12–13
John’s Gospel is filled with much symbolic meaning. The passage above concludes the story of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. After feeding the multitude of people with only five barley loaves and two fish, they were able to fill twelve wicker baskets with what remained. What was the reason for the extra?
Saint Augustine, in commenting upon this passage, explains that Jesus provided more than the people could eat as a way of symbolically representing spiritual truths that were beyond what the vast crowds could comprehend. Thus, Jesus’ teachings spiritually nourished the crowds to the point that they were fully satisfied. But even though the general crowds were satisfied with what Jesus taught them, there was still so much more that He had to teach. These deeper spiritual truths are represented by the extra twelve baskets.
The twelve baskets represent the Twelve Disciples. They were the ones specially chosen by Jesus to receive so much more. Recall the times when Jesus taught the crowds in parables and then, later, would explain the meaning to the Twelve in private. He revealed to them certain truths that most people could not understand and accept.
It is helpful to consider three different groups of people in this miracle and apply those groupings to us today. The first group of people are those who were not even present for the miracle. Those who did not make the journey to be with Jesus in the wilderness. This is the largest group of people within society who go about their daily lives without even seeking minimal nourishment from our Lord.
The second grouping of people is this “large crowd” who followed Jesus to the remote side of the Sea of Galilee to be with Him. These represent those who diligently seek out our Lord every day. These are those who are faithful to the celebration of the Mass, the reading of Scripture, to daily prayer and study. To this grouping of people, our Lord teaches many things, and they are nourished by His holy Word and Sacraments.
The third grouping of people, the Twelve Disciples who are represented by the Twelve wicker baskets left over, are those who are exceptionally faithful to our Lord and continue to be nourished by Him in a superabundant way. These are those who seek to understand and embrace the deepest spiritual truths so as to be nourished and transformed on the deepest level.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that the spiritual food our Lord wishes to offer you is most often far more than you can immediately accept and consume. But understanding that fact is the first step to disposing yourself to receive even more. As you reflect upon this superabundance of spiritual food from our Lord, recommit yourself especially to seek out that remaining “twelve wicker baskets” of spiritual truths. If you do, you will discover that there is truly no end to the transforming depths of the gifts of grace our Lord wishes to bestow upon you.
My most generous Lord, You not only give spiritual nourishment to Your people, You give it in superabundance. As I daily seek You out and am filled with Your mercy, help me to never tire of feasting upon the superabundant gift of Your grace. Please do nourish me, dear Lord, and help me to consume Your holy Word. Jesus, I trust in You.
Do Not Be Afraid
Saturday of the Second Week of Easter
When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they began to be afraid. But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” John 6:19–20
On October 22, 1978, Pope Saint John Paul II was inaugurated as the 264th pope of our Holy Church. During his homily, the Holy Father said, “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.” The phrase “Do not be afraid” was repeated over and over again throughout his pontificate. In his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, which was written as a preparation for the new millenia, the Holy Father explained the following: “When pronouncing these words in St. Peter’s Square, I already knew that my first encyclical and my entire papacy would be tied to the truth of the Redemption. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words “Be not afraid!”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (cf. Jn 3:16).
This exhortation against fear is repeated throughout the Bible numerous times. It is found in the Old Testament over a hundred times in some form and in the New Testament over fifty times. Again and again, God wants us to conquer fear, worry, and anxiety. He wants us to trust in Him in all things and place all of our hope in Him.
What is it that you fear the most in life? For some, fear comes on a daily basis. Perhaps you face financial insecurity, poor health, a broken relationship, psychological difficulties, etc. There are numerous things in life that can easily tempt us to fear.
In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus walks toward His disciples on the water during a turbulent time on the Sea of Galilee. The wind was blowing, and the waves were concerning. And though these fishermen had spent many nights on the sea, Jesus chose to come to them at this moment, not so much to help them get to shore but to teach all of us that no matter what “storm” we face in life, He will be there in ways that are truly miraculous. Certainly, none of the disciples ever expected to see Jesus walking on the water in the middle of the night while the waves were crashing upon their boat. But Jesus did this and spoke those words, “Do not be afraid,” because He wanted us to know that no matter what we struggle with in life, He is always there, coming to us in love, and will see us safely to the shore of His peace.
If fear is something you struggle with on a personal level, then turn your eyes to the reality of the Redemption. The Father sent the Son into the world to save you. Jesus did not only come to teach, or to inspire, or to help. He came to save. To redeem. To destroy death, fear, sin and all that keeps us from the Father. His saving act changes humanity forever. If you understand that and believe it, then nothing can steal away your peace and fill you with fear.
Reflect, today, upon this powerful little phrase: “Do not be afraid!” Imagine yourself in the boat with the disciples at night, being tossed by the waves, surrounded by darkness. And then see Jesus coming to you speaking those words. Know that He speaks them to you in the darkest moments of your life and that He will never leave you. Hope in Him and let His saving act of the Redemption transform your life forever.
Jesus, my Redeemer, I thank You for coming into this world to save us. Thank You for the gift of the Redemption of the world. When I am tempted to fear and turn my eyes to the difficulties of the world, give me the grace I need to turn to You in hope and trust. Enter the storms of my life, dear Lord, and lift my burden of fear. Jesus, I trust in You.